Charnwood-Dunlop School community rallies to improve reading
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Charnwood-Dunlop School community rallies to improve reading

Every day from 9am to 9.30am, every student at the Charnwood-Dunlop School has their nose deep in a book. This is just one strategy thought to have led to a significant improvement in reading levels at the school according to the latest NAPLAN results.

The government school in a low socio-economic area has 293 students, with 40 per cent coming from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Charnwood-Dunlop School deputy principal Robert Lans with sixth graders Tyreece Ryan (11), Cameron Morton (10), and Trista Buckley (11).

Charnwood-Dunlop School deputy principal Robert Lans with sixth graders Tyreece Ryan (11), Cameron Morton (10), and Trista Buckley (11).

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The latest NAPLAN results reveal the Charnwood-Dunlop School showed the greatest improvement in reading and writing of any ACT school comparing the results of its students when they were in year three (2015) to when they were in year five (2017).

Those students are now in year six, leading the way for the rest of the school in what has been a whole-of-community effort to ignite a love of reading and books across all classes.

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Charnwood Dunlop primary school librarian Bridgette Manley reads with sixth graders Tyreece Ryan (11), Cameron Morton (10), and Trista Buckley (11). The school says employed a teacher-librarian to help lift literacy levels.

Charnwood Dunlop primary school librarian Bridgette Manley reads with sixth graders Tyreece Ryan (11), Cameron Morton (10), and Trista Buckley (11). The school says employed a teacher-librarian to help lift literacy levels.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Principal Debbie Martens said there had been a tangible shift at the school.

"The biggest change I see is just that love of reading," she said.

"The kids don't treat reading as something they have to do at school. You actually see them walking around the playground with their books and getting on the bus with them and taking them home. So it's actually become a culture of enjoying reading."

The half-hour "hot read" in the morning, employing a teacher-librarian (Bridgette Manley) and opening a space called the ABC Cafe for reading before school with families and for intervention with students who needed extra help were some of the positive changes.Volunteers helped with reading, the progress of the students tracked with questionnaires at the end of each session.

Mrs Martens said the school also adopted a 'positive behaviour for learning' approach where the focus was on teaching students to be "safe and respectful" learners. And this was supported by the broader Dunlop and Charnwood communities.

"It's a community all working together to improve the kids in all kinds of ways," she said.

"It takes a village."

The NAPLAN results from 2015 found year three and year five students at Charnwood-Dunlop were performing below or substantially below in reading and writing compared to other similar schools across the country.

The latest NAPLAN results, from 2017, found year three and year five students at the Charnwood-Dunlop had improved significantly in reading and grammar, performing on par or better than some of their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

In other words, year three students in 2015 were close to the bottom of the reading pile; by 2017, when they were in year five, they were in the middle, tracking upwards towards the top.

Mrs Martens said the school community did feel a sense of achievement in the reading improvements, even thought it regarded NAPLAN scores as "just one piece of the puzzle".

"Nothing beats coming into the school and seeing what we're actually doing," she said.

"I always interview the new enrolments and take them for a walk through the school and explain what we're doing and that seems to be what makes them go away and think, 'I really want to be at this school'.

"[NAPLAN] is one measure and we certainly use that as a measure but we have lots of other data we use. I think [the NAPLAN result] does reflect what were doing in the school.

"It's very nice public recognition of what we feel we're achieving in the school."

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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